By Tom Danehy
NOTES FROM THE Lost Weekend.... (Actually, I was going to say "Notes from Last Weekend," but that's not nearly as dramatic.)
The scene was set and everything was in place. It was as if it were scripted by The God of Basketball.
The Arizona men's basketball team would avenge their two season-opening losses to the Bay Area schools, and in the process, enhance their chances for staying in the friendly West Regional in the NCAA Tournament. If they could sweep Stanford on Thursday and Cal on Saturday, they might even get to play at ASU, making the first two games in the tournament the next best thing to home games.
The University was also taking the unprecedented (though long overdue) step of retiring Sean Elliott's jersey, making him the only athlete in UA history to be so honored.
Meanwhile, the women's team was in the Bay Area, trying to sew up the school's first-ever women's NCAA Tournament bid. After having beaten Washington the week before, the Lady Cats felt they would only have to earn a split at Stanford and Cal to make it to the Big Dance.
Well, it may have been scripted by the God of Basketball, but somebody apparently called in Quentin Tarantino to do a rewrite.
First, the men lost to Stanford, allowing the Cardinals to sweep them for the first time ever. Even Ben Lindsey's 1983 team that went a Pac-10 worst-ever 1-17 in the conference managed to avoid that dubious distinction.
Stanford guard Dion Cross went 9-for-9 from the field and just killed the Cats. I heard one guy (who was apparently getting a head start on his St. Patrick's Day celebrating) say, "If only we had Joseph Blair...."
What would Blair have been able to do? Take the ball out of the bottom of the net sooner after Cross nailed another three-pointer? Joseph Blair is gone. He committed semi-professional suicide. Get over it.
The Cat women played Stanford tough that night, actually leading for a considerable amount of time before being ground down by the national powerhouse from Palo Alto. The Lady Cardinals go into the NCAAs with a dazzling 25-2 record and a top seed in the West.
No one was actually expecting the Lady Cats to win at Stanford. Cal was the game they were all pointing to and things didn't start off well there at all. Arizona trailed virtually the entire first 35 minutes and were down by double figures with five minutes to go in the game.
But then they sucked it up, hit a couple big threes and came back to win, 85-82. They finished 19-8 overall, 10-8 and tied for third in the conference. They were justifiably confident, considering the Pac-10 sent five teams to the NCAAs the past two years.
Well, in the Tarantino version of reality, the Lady Cats got mugged. The NCAA Tournament selection committee brought in some pipe-swingin' bruthuhs who got medieval on (them). The committee took Stanford, Oregon State and Oregon and left the Cats out. In essence, they took the Nos. 1, 2 and 4 teams from the Pac-10, but not No. 3.
Arizona's women's team suffers from an image problem. The program has been down so long, it's hard to get anybody outside of the region to recognize the fact they're not down any more. As the wins mounted at the beginning of the season, at best Arizona only got a handful of votes in the national polls. Even when they started winning conference games, voters were reluctant to go with them.
People who vote in polls and serve on those committees are resistant to change. Long-standing reputations (both good and bad) mean a lot. This explains why Michigan's men's team made the NCAAs this year, even though they're absolutely horrible. (Another reason is that the NCAA likes to have good attendance in the early-round games, and they know that if Michigan is playing, a lot of tickets will be sold to parole officers, sports agents and Ford Explorer salesmen.)
Back at home, the men had their hands full with Cal, a team which had a bizarre two-game winning streak at McKale. I hate Cal. I hate Cal's coach. They're smug and arrogant and they play nasty, ugly basketball punctuated by great athleticism and almost no teamwork.
Someone once said the only thing worse than not having enough good ballplayers is having too many good ballplayers. Well, Cal is the poster child for that sentiment. The Bears go 10 deep and are clearly more talented than Arizona.
The Bears led the entire game, but when it came time to use teamwork, experience and brains, the Cats roared from behind, leaving the Bears scratching their well-shaven heads. The McKale crowd, perhaps spurred on by the presence of the best player in school history, was in rare form. The noise level was very high and the enthusiasm seemed genuine and unforced (sadly, a rare occurrence these days).
Cal staggers into the NCAAs, having lost both games in Arizona. Yes, ASU actually beat somebody this year. Actually, they beat more than one person this year, but the woman filed felony charges.
Oh yeah, Sean Elliott showed up for a nice ceremony at halftime of the Cal game. They unfurled a gigantic banner from the McKale ceiling and Sean got several standing ovations from an adoring crowd.
He didn't have a speech, but he was wearing a suit, the cost of which could put my daughter through college. He was the same as always--pleasant, outgoing, polite and thoroughly engaging. He was the greatest thing that ever happened to the UA and it was about damn time the UA got around to recognizing him.
The UA men's team will open play Friday night at ASU, so the loss to Stanford didn't hurt them. See, the UA men's team has a good reputation with committee members. Plus, they put a lot of people in the seats, almost none of whom (with the exception of Jim Click) sell Ford Explorers.
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